Let's Get SaaSy

David Bernal

Let’s Get SaaSy: A conversation with David Donnelly

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with David Donnelly, Marketing Operations and Demand Generation Manager at Cority, to do a deep dive into:

  • His experience wearing multiple hats for SaaS businesses;
  • Career evolution; and
  • Strategies marketing managers can use to succeed in the industry.
This interview has been edited for length, context, and clarity. Because both the interviewer and the interviewee are named David we are using the first name initials to identify David Bernal, strategist at Centrico Digital.

 

D. Bernal: Thank you so much, David, for joining us. Let’s start with you telling us who you are and how you got to the position you're currently in.

David Donnelly: I’m originally from Ireland. I studied marketing in college and graduated in 2009. I worked in Ireland for three years with a US company in digital marketing. I then moved to Toronto, and that's when I gained more marketing operations experience while working for a B2B SaaS company. And now I'm at Cority, another enterprise, B2B software company, developing EHSQ - environmental, health, safety, and quality - software. It's the best role I've had so far.

D. Bernal: Why did you move from digital marketing specifically to marketing operations? 

David Donnelly: I fought against it at first because it wasn’t what I had planned. My mind changed about six years ago when I got the opportunity to implement a marketing automation platform from scratch. That experience was great and now I accept the opportunities presented to me more willingly even if it wasn’t planned.

D. Bernal: I think your experience talks about how digital marketers nowadays have to wear many hats. Now that you are a marketing operations and demand generation manager, how is your team organized? How do you delegate responsibilities? Is this structure flexible, and do you and your team have very specific roles?

David Donnelly: We have seven managers at the moment. We all have a core responsibility, I have operation and demand generation. We have different managers who are responsible for the website, content, events, design, international marketing, specific programs but because it is an incredibly horizontal organization, everybody can do a little bit of everything.

D. Bernal: How do you measure your clients' engagement? Is this an important metric within your marketing strategy and what kind of methods do you use if you do?

David Donnelly: We survey our customers, we score online behavior, we capture net promoter score, and, during the survey process, we also accept feedback. Our account managers also provide feedback because they work so closely with our customers.

All that data comes together in our CRM, so all teams can use it.

D. Bernal: What are the most relevant metrics that you use as marketing operations and demand generation manager? Also, how do you keep track of these metrics and what are your KPIs?

David Donnelly: We measure campaign attributions with a customer data platform. The other metric will be the number of marketing qualified leads for which we have a set criteria. 

D. Bernal: You wear two hats at Cority--you're in charge of marketing operations and demand generation. How do you make sure that your KPIs don't conflict with each other? How do you balance that in your two roles?

David Donnelly: I guess I haven't found it much of a challenge because we have historical data to benchmark against. When working with a team I think you naturally find a balance when you're having a conversation on metrics. There may be a department saying, "We want higher quality". When they're saying higher quality, I take on the opposite role of saying, "We also have to hit a target.”

D. Bernal: As a marketing manager and demand gen manager, what do you think about new technologies, and what is your philosophy when it comes to adopting new technologies for your marketing processes? 

David Donnelly: The first thing is I don't like buying anything where the minimum contract length is longer than a year. The other one is understanding when to change your process to fit the technology versus changing the technology to fit your process. So making that judgment call on when to accommodate a change request for technology versus when to change the process is important when you're buying new technology.

D. Bernal: You have a lot of experience in demand gen and marketing operations. Do you remember the most successful tactic or strategy you’ve used in either of your roles or while at Cority?

David Donnelly: For strategy, a very general rule of thumb for me is I don't pursue conflicting metrics at the same time. When I’m pursuing growth, I’m just pursuing growth; I’ll accept that CPAs or relative metrics might suffer in the short term. If you want growth, increase the budget for three to six months and see the CPA increase. Then alternate and go to efficiency.

D. Bernal: What do you think other marketing managers, CMOs, or people who manage a marketing process in a company still get wrong when marketing for SaaS companies? 

David Donnelly: I don't know if it'd be specific to SaaS businesses, but I find that focus is put on Reducing the effort to get more work done instead of focusing on improving performance. When someone asks you to do something, I think it's more constructive to consider how to get the most value out of the task. 

D. Bernal: What is your definition of performance? 

David Donnelly: Typically, I look at pipeline and ROAS.

D. Bernal: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for marketing managers these days? 

David Donnelly: Helping your team develop the experience they need to grow with the company, encouraging team members to join associations, learn from peers, and exchange ideas. Leaders can reduce employee churn if you show them how to learn from other organizations without necessarily having to join them.

D. Bernal: What do you say to leaders who work in smaller companies who maybe don't have people on staff who have done certain projects before?

David Donnelly: Yeah, that is tough. I think you've got to get into that habit of asking for introductions to people at other companies to keep growing your network of people you can learn from. Networking is difficult, even if you fail nine out of ten times to meet someone new that one time is worth it.

Another great way to build your network is, if you're ever buying software, to ask the salesperson who's doing the product demo if there is anyone else you could talk to for a reference.

D. Bernal: In terms of marketing in 2021, what do you think are some trends that are shaping or disrupting the digital marketing space, or that are disrupting your industry specifically?

David Donnelly: I’d say tools like customer data platforms that give a true sense of multi-touch attribution. You can see what campaigns work but also start building audiences. Combine those audiences to your programmatic buying of media, then suddenly, it gets quite clever and sophisticated in what you can do because you then have highly targeted ads going to a very specific audience, that can scale.

D. Bernal: As a marketing operations manager and even as a demand generation manager, what do you think is the biggest challenge that you still face?

David Donnelly: My biggest challenges are always interdepartmental cultural differences within an organization. Marketing has a high-risk tolerance and works conscientiously. But you must work within the constraints of an organization where you have other departments with separate goals and different cultures which might be slower to change.

D. Bernal: Now that you've experienced smaller companies, bigger and medium-sized companies, and Cority-sized. If you could talk to them from five years ago, what lessons would you share with them? 

David Donnelly: One will always be set 25 minutes aside at least once a week to upskill. And don't overthink it--it's only 25 minutes. The other thing that would be something I tell myself is "remaining professional is half the job”, sometimes we have to accept things outside our control affect our ability to do our job, but we can always remain professional.

D. Bernal: So how do you make sure you have a successful relationship with a team when they have, for example, 50% of the project and you have the other 50%, and you do not agree with many of the processes they're following? How do you ensure that the team is successful in the end?

David Donnelly: I guess you can't ensure it's going to be successful at the end. You can only really be responsible for your part. Your responsibility is only to share your experience. If they listen to you or if they don't listen to you, that's their choice. 

D. Bernal: What books, if any, or podcasts or content would you recommend to other SaaS and tech marketers? Or what pieces of content have shaped your way of thinking and working?

David Donnelly: The technology podcast I listen to is the Georgian Impact Podcast. The only book that I think has changed how I work was “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins. It's about joining a company and what you'd cover in the first 90 days. Or if you got a promotion, what would you cover in the first 90 days. 

If you're new to a company, you don't know how things work, you don't know how to work with your boss, or you don't know the team dynamics. Find someone who has a little bit of experience and just ask them to share their experience with you, people are usually very willing to help.  I think that's one of the most important things--to have those people in the company who want to see you succeed. And I think the other thing is having senior leadership who is willing to give you advice. They always want you to do well.

D. Bernal: Thank you so much, David. I think your answers will help a lot of marketing managers develop their skills, help them know what decisions to make, and also trigger them to do some introspection.

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